PREVENIENT GRACE is a Christian theological concept rooted in Arminian theology , though it appeared earlier in Catholic theology. It is divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin , prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.
* 1 Definition * 2 In Arminius * 3 In Roman Catholic theology * 4 In Wesley * 5 Biblical texts * 6 In Methodist hymnody * 7 In other sources
* 8 Objections to the doctrine
* 8.1 Comparison among Protestants
* 9 References * 10 Bibliography
Arminian Free Will Baptist theologian Robert E. Picirilli says that the word "prevenient" in prevenient grace comes from an archaic English usage meaning "anticipating," "coming before," or "preceding." Picirilli says that a good synonym for "prevenient grace" is "enabling grace," as it enables sinful mankind to believe.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline (2004) defines prevenient grace as "...the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our 'first slight transient conviction' of having sinned against God. God's grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith."
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The Church of the Nazarene has made prevenient grace one of its sixteen "Articles of Faith" found in the Nazarene Manual. The Manual declares on behalf of the Church of the Nazarene:
We believe that the human race’s creation in Godlikeness included ability to choose between right and wrong, and that thus human beings were made morally responsible; that through the fall of Adam they became depraved so that they cannot now turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works to faith and calling upon God. But we also believe that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed upon all people, enabling all who will to turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.
Predecessor to the Nazarene Articles of Faith are the Articles of
Religion , which
Thomas Oden of
Arminius affirmed total depravity but believed that only prevenient grace allowed people to choose salvation:
Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the
Scriptures and orthodox consent:
IN ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY
"No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit. Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace."
The Second Council of Orange of 529 stated that faith, though a free act, resulted even in its beginnings from the grace of God, enlightening the human mind and enabling belief. In canon 23 it is said that God prepares our wills that they may desire the good. Canon 25 states, "In every good work, it is not we who begin... but He (God) first inspires us with faith and love of Him, through no preceding merit on our part.”
Wesley insisted on prevenient grace as a solution to two great problems in Christianity: the belief of original sin and the Protestant doctrine of salvation by grace alone . Wesley thought that prevenient grace enabled the doctrines of original sin and salvation by grace to co-exist while still maintaining God's sovereignty and holy character as well as human freedom.
Scriptures used to support the doctrine include (NT quotes from Wesley's translation, unless noted):
* Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV ): "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you..."
* Jeremiah 31:3 (KJV ): "...I have loved thee with an everlasting
love: therefore with lovingkindness HAVE I DRAWN THEE."
* Ezekiel 34:11, 16 (ESV ): "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I,
I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out...I will seek
the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the
injured, and I will strengthen the weak..."
* Luke 19:10: "For the Son of Man is come to SEEK AND TO SAVE that
which was lost."
* John 6:44: "No man can come unto me, unless the Father who hath
sent me, DRAW HIM..."
* John 12:32: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, WILL DRAW
all peoples to Myself.”
* Romans 2:4: "...the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance..."
Ephesians 1:13 (NASB ): "In Him, you also, after listening to the
message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed,
you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise..."
* Philippians 2:12-13: "...work out your own salvation with fear and
trembling. For it is God that worketh in you according to his good
pleasure, both to will and to do."
* 1 John 4:19: "We love him, because he first loved us."
* Titus 2:11: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has
appeared to ALL MEN."
* John 3:14-18: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That WHOSOEVER
believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so
loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God
sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the
world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not
condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he
hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
* John 11:25-26: "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and
the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he
live: And WHOSOEVER liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
IN METHODIST HYMNODY
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Methodist Church of Great Britain
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Most Methodist hymnals have a section with hymns concerning prevenient grace, most recently The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). One of the best known hymns written about the doctrine is Charles Wesley\'s "Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast", which includes the lines, "Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind... the invitation is to all..." (emphasis added).
Charles Wesley's "Sinners, Turn: Why Will You Die" continues the theme, "Sinners, turn: why will you die? God, the Spirit, asks you why; he, who all your lives hath strove, wooed you to embrace his love" (emphasis added). His hymn "Depth of Mercy" offers a prayer to God, "Now incline me to repent, let me now my sins lament, now my foul revolt deplore, weep, believe, and sin no more" (emphasis added).
IN OTHER SOURCES
* "Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace" (#2670 Catechism of the Catholic Church ). * "That grace is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed; but grace, which is not due, precedes, that they may be done ." Can. 18. #191 Council of Orange II A.D. 529 ( Second Council of Orange ).
OBJECTIONS TO THE DOCTRINE
Calvinists often object to prevenient grace, claiming it allows for Pelagianism or Semipelagianism . Arminius recognized the possibility of this objection. Theologian Robert E. Picirilli writes, quoting Arminius, that:
What Arminius meant by "prevenient grace" was that grace that precedes actual regeneration and which, except when finally resisted, inevitably leads to regeneration. He was quick to observe that this "assistance of the Holy Spirit" is of such sufficiency "as to keep at the greatest possible distance from Pelagianism."
Calvinists have their own doctrine of prevenient grace, which they identify with the act of regeneration and which is immediately and necessarily followed by faith. Because of the necessity of salvation following this dispensation of prevenient grace, it is called irresistible grace . Wesleyan prevenient grace also contrasts with the Calvinist understanding of common grace by which God shows general mercy to everyone (Matt. 5:43-48), restrains sin, and gives humankind a knowledge of God and of their sinfulness and need of rescue from sin. Common grace is thus said to leave people without excuse. Arminians object that Calvinist common grace leaves people absolutely incapable of coming to God (a point on which Calvinists agree) and thus do not believe it leaves them without excuse.
Calvinists further maintain that when the Bible speaks of humanity's condition of total depravity , of spiritual death, it speaks of it as an actuality, not a hypothetical condition that prevenient grace resolves for everyone, as they believe the Wesleyan doctrine teaches. Calvinists see all people as either dead in their sins or alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1-5), and they see the Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace as creating a third state, neither dead nor alive. Calvinists understand "dead in sin" to mean absolutely unable to choose God, whereas Arminians understand it to mean the state of being separated from God by sin, but capable of choosing God.
Some Calvinists (and others) derisively refer to the Wesleyan concept
of prevenient grace as "universal enablement." They characterize the
Wesleyan view as teaching that God has restored to every individual
the ability to seek after God and choose salvation and as not being
justified by the Bible. They argue that because this grace is
supposedly given to all alike, the determining factor in salvation
becomes the will of man. Calvinists believe that Wesleyans teach that
God seeks all people equally, and if it weren't for the fact that some
were willing to respond to his promptings and persuasions, no one
would be saved. They see this dependence on the will and choice of the
individual as a good work required for salvation and thus an implicit
rejection of salvation by grace alone . Conversely, in
Wesleyans counter these objections by claiming that God has initiated salvation through prevenient grace, and while human beings still maintain God-given free will to respond to that initiative, salvation is still initiated (and ultimately activated), by God, through justifying grace .
COMPARISON AMONG PROTESTANTS
This table summarizes the classical views of three different Protestant beliefs.
TOPIC LUTHERANISM CALVINISM ARMINIANISM
Through the means of grace , such as the
Henry Bettenson , The Later Christian Fathers (London: Oxford
University Press, 1970), pp. 204-205.
Council of Trent
* Sermon #44: "Original Sin" by